Interview: Web-to-print has to function on mobile as well


The world functions digitally in many areas. And yet – or precisely because of this – print has a special status in society. Print not only transports information but can also turn any item into a customized product. One person who knows how to do this is Alexander Sperrfechter, founder and CEO of the software company rissc. In the new episode of Zippers Insights, he talks about e-commerce, headless web-to-print, the importance of the smartphone as a touchpoint, the metaverse and mass customization. It’s worth listening in!

Read a slightly abridged version of the podcast interview here or listen to the conversation in full and in German on ZIPPERS INSIGHTS or on Spotify.

Bernd Zipper: We’re sitting here together with Alexander Sperrfechter from rissc. Hello there, greetings! Your company is called rissc, R-I-S-S-C. You are known as specialists for the whole topic of web-to-print, web-to-publish – what does rissc actually mean?

Alexander Sperrfechter: We’ve been around for a good 20 years now. Back then, we thought that we would simply put the first letters of the activities we wanted to carry out into a company name. The result was rissc. 20 years ago, we were relatively closely involved with research – that’s where the R comes from. And together with Information Software Service and Consulting, the result is rissc.

Bernd Zipper: You are a real hidden hero. If you don’t go to the Online Print Symposium or to an industry event that deals with e-commerce or online printing, nobody will probably meet you. That’s because you don’t run any big campaigns. Instead, you find your customers – with Swabian reserve – either through word of mouth or at industry events.

Alexander Sperrfechter: Yes, exactly. I think if there’s one thing we can’t do, it’s aggressive marketing. That can be good and bad. For us, it hasn’t been bad the last few years. But of course, there are always people asking, “Who are you guys anyway?”, “Where are you from, why don’t we know you?”. We can certainly work on that.

Bernd Zipper: On your website you write that you have around 5,000 happy users. Where do they come from? Who uses the Printformer, the Printformer Service Software?

Alexander Sperrfechter: Sounds almost like happy chickens… but no. Happy users means that over the years we have had an extremely large number of users who actively use the software in a wide variety of environments, whether it is B2B, B2C, or internally in companies where workflows are organized. And most of the feedback I get is that they are happy. That’s why there’s a number. By the way, it’s not really up to date anymore. I think there are more of them now.

Bernd Zipper: Just to explain, you started with a web editor. The Printformer can be described as a web-to-print editor, right?

Alexander Sperrfechter: Yes, absolutely. Where did we actually start from? We were founded 20 years ago and mainly collected data in a web environment. That was totally hip at the time. We were using tablets, which didn’t really exist yet. We went to car manufacturers, other companies and did research. We collected data on all kinds of topics. On the web-to-print topic, we found ourselves, as is probably often the case with companies, having someone approach us and say, “If you can collect data, can you print it?” That’s how we came to the web-to-print topic. We then decided for ourselves relatively quickly: If we’re going to do this, we want to do it with a focus – and left everything else. Because we saw the potential in this environment.

If you think back on it today, 20 years ago, who was there? There wasn’t much there. But even then, it wasn’t like everyone knew us, but we’ve been doing this thing for 20 years and in completely different ways. Back then, Form was important, then Flash was important, then Form again, and so on. But in fact, we didn’t originally come to the topic from the print world. We are classic IT people with research expertise, but we found this topic exciting. The first customer we had actually produced very classic business materials, for example business cards in various forms. Two people were employed there, they did nothing else – and that was to be optimized. That’s how we came to this topic, and that’s how Printformer was born. In the first step, it was simply an individual project that became a product that has now been around for 20 years.

Bernd Zipper: Now various web environments have also been added around the editor, also in terms of e-commerce. Was that really Magento in the beginning?

Alexander Sperrfechter: No, in the beginning these were proprietary systems, some of which we developed ourselves and some of which partners developed. We planned from the beginning – maybe different from other vendors in the environment – that we wanted to have a focus on the web-to-print system. Part of it is an editor, but of course there’s a lot that happens before and behind the editor. But we never wanted to have an e-commerce system, whether developed in-house or by others, that was adapted to a specific circumstance. Because we have always been convinced that e-commerce is a market that changes quickly and where a lot happens. We didn’t want to run into any kind of hurdle where we said, “Now it’s getting insecure, now we have to do something. From the beginning, our software has always been separate. E-commerce is a vehicle for us, which means that our system, when it goes to the end customer or also to the B2B customer, of course often or almost always works in an e-commerce environment: you want to sell something and there’s a mass customization tool where you design something. And then there was the point in time where we said: Okay, in-house developed systems or even from other partners that are not standard do not make sense. E-commerce is becoming a standard, there are a few standard systems, we have to choose one. And the first one we chose was Magento.

Bernd Zipper: And did you regret it?

Alexander Sperrfechter: No, based on the time back then, definitely not. It turns out that Magento is an incredibly complex system – that has advantages and disadvantages. You can do an incredible amount with it, but of course it also has disadvantages in terms of how much effort it takes to customize anything. But don’t regret it at all. We have outstandingly successful Magento projects to this day. But time goes on, and therefore we had to, or we wanted to, say at some point, there is still an alternative. In the meantime, we do a lot with Shopify, out of conviction. From my point of view as a CEO and founder: you’re surrounded with professionals. Our guys are all highly educated, highly skilled. If one of them finds another IT system that he didn’t program himself to be good, that’s something special. That happens very rarely in such a cosmos.

Bernd Zipper: …the developers.

Alexander Sperrfechter: Well, of course they look at it differently, they have a different focus, it’s about code quality and things like that. Shopify came into focus for us at least three or four years ago. And suddenly our own people, on their own impulse, said: That sounds good, looks good, works well, and has such and such advantages. And that’s why we jumped on this bandwagon right from the start and we’re delighted to have done it. Nobody could have known back then that it would become such a hype.

Bernd Zipper: Yes, at the moment Shopify is a bit down. If I remember, two years ago they were valued at eight times as much as BMW. But right now, it’s rattling around in the box. We’ve reported on it on, so we don’t need to go into it now. But what has come up with Shopify is the buzzword headless commerce. What do I mean by that?

Alexander Sperrfechter: I think it will certainly be different. We understand it as being able to do things in one environment, in micro-part environments, without having a huge system built around it and having the feeling of being in a store. If I look at a headless commerce system, let’s take a simple example where we say we have a single product that I want to sell or personalize, then all of a sudden, I can do that in an environment where it’s not even noticeable to the end customer that they’re just standing there in a store environment. A store is defined and often looks like Amazon. And anything that looks and feels different has a certain charm because you’re more or less just selling and offering things. And ultimately, I get to a shopping cart and do a checkout. But what happens before that, how it looks, how it feels, can just be completely out of a store logic. And that’s fun, especially with a lot of products.

But you have to differentiate. We also do headless web-to-print, which is something completely different. I no longer see an editor; something happens in the background. But headless e-commerce means that I make a purchase and an e-commerce process, but in the end, I only see it because I enter a credit card number somewhere at the very end and say: I want it.

Bernd Zipper: Headless web-to-print, what do you mean by that?

Alexander Sperrfechter: Web-to-print is a large field. We called it web-to-print in 2001 because we had a system before that called audit-to-web, but now it was about print. So, the question was, what do we call it? I can’t tell you if the term web-to-print existed in 2001. I don’t know. We didn’t know it. We thought it came from us. If it was coming from us, we should have talked about it. Today I think all the listeners know what it is and what it’s about. Basically, there are two different types. One is, I have an editor and I design something. Whether I’m doing that in a consumer environment and designing a T-shirt or a gummy bear package or an advent calendar or in a professional environment where it’s other products, there’s an editor in play. But an editor can also be “headless” in the process. We’re talking about the automotive industry, for example, which produces a manual for a vehicle. That is highly individual today. You certainly didn’t order your last car off the shelf, you chose it: I want this, this and these accessories. And it makes a lot of sense to adapt the documentation to the accessories, because then I don’t always have “It continues on page 17”, but I have my book. That would be an example. That happens during production and there’s no editor involved. In the past, they probably would have called it Databased Publishing. And the one with a bit more intelligence is headless web-to-print.

Bernd Zipper: I wrote an article about PDF on the fly in the Seybold Report in the mid- to late 90s. It was about the fact that I can use PDF to create print templates, also “on the fly”, at that time not via an editor, but via HTML and JDF comments, i.e., already XML. That’s when I wrote at the end, “PDF on the fly becomes web-to-print”. And Fun Fact: Five or six years ago, I met with a young project manager from a US company that also offers web-to-print systems. And in the conversation, he said, “Yeah, and then in 2004 my dad invented web-to-print.” I think everybody is kind of a father of that. Personally, I couldn’t care less, honestly. I’m very, very happy to claim that I invented it, of course, but that’s probably not true either. Because it’s close, web-to-print. It’s just like air-to-breathe, yes? What is actually the difference between web-to-print and web-to-publish?

Alexander Sperrfechter: I think after web-to-print became a more or less normal term, there were an incredible number of web-to-print systems, vendors, etc., and many of them were basically printers doing something, via a form, and that was called web-to-print.

Then there was an attempt by all the web-to-print system providers on how to differentiate and what the extension of print could be. This was more about publishing. In the end, we differentiate like this: publishing systems that we have are much more complex than simple web-to-print systems. Simple web-to-print is flyers, posters, any kind of product, advertising material. But when it comes to publishing, it’s about versatility, it’s about books, it’s about catalogues. I think that’s where the difference comes from. At the end of the day, it’s the same thing, but in different ways.

Bernd Zipper: So, with web-to-publish, you could also take InDesign and IDML or whatever and put something together.

Alexander Sperrfechter: Exactly.

Bernd Zipper: I could do that as well, accordingly.

Alexander Sperrfechter: The bottom line is that we also use IDML and InDesign for very classic, simple business stationery. Of course, there are several ways to output a catalogue, either partially or fully automated or completely by hand. I make a plan of an advertising material, of documents, where there are many people working on such a document, planning the products, putting them in roughly or also precisely. And finally, it is published.

Bernd Zipper: What do you think about web-to-print on cell phones? Is it cool or uncool?

Alexander Sperrfechter: No, it’s cool. We approach a lot of our current projects and systems exactly according to the requirement that it must work on the cell phone. I think you have to distinguish which target group it is, what’s happening there, and will people buy on mobile afterwards or not? I think many more complex web-to-print products are not bought on the cell phone, but people find out about them. People look, they look at their colleagues, they look in meetings, they try it out, so it has to work. And the more consumer-heavy the product becomes, the more likely it is to be bought on mobile. I think a personalized advent calendar will probably only be bought on a cell phone for the foreseeable future, without me knowing any figures now. Because people no longer have a laptop at home anyway or don’t use it. If a business customer says he wants 2,000 personalized Advent calendars, they probably won’t be designed and purchased on a cell phone. But it will be looked at and researched. But if I’m at a point where that’s not possible, I’m pretty sure that the professional business process won’t happen after that either. Then you look around for another provider, there are many other websites, hundreds, where you can buy it. Then you look around and see where it works.

Bernd Zipper: I’m noticing more and more that the cell phone is a trigger. A digital native of advanced age like me now has about seven messengers of various kinds. Then there’s Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, which I’m watching with great interest because there are more and more software providers out there who explain how things work in a simple and playful way. Do you think that this playfulness is slowly gaining acceptance in our society and can be an eye-opener for some people? Kind of like, “Hey, I can use software or a store for that, too?”

Alexander Sperrfechter: I think it’s ultra-important that the channel works. If I take our employees as a starting point, I believe that from the moment they leave the office, they use nothing but their cell phones. And if I’m completely honest, that’s how I do it, too. So, when I sit on the sofa in the evening, I don’t pull out a laptop anymore. The phones are big enough, you can get everything in and do research on the side. It’s super easy to access, and that’s why I’m sure the playful approach will encourage people to keep looking. If the playful approach is broken because it doesn’t work on mobile, then in many cases people will say, “Okay, I’m going to look for something else. I’m going to try a different vendor or a different store. So, from our software vendor perspective, we tell our customers, “You need to be mobile.” Then there are many in the B2B environment who say, “Well, there’s no way I’m going to sell a catalogue via mobile.” I agree, that’s not going to happen. But the person who researches, who looks, who tries things out, who just wants to have a quick look in the evening or even during the day, wants to have access.

Bernd Zipper: And there’s even more happening. Now this Metaverse is coming from a company called Meta, which was previously called Facebook. What do you think of that?

Alexander Sperrfechter: If I’m completely honest, I’m probably in an age group where I have to think about how this actually works, how interesting it will be. Now I come from an industry that is very open. It’s probably going to be the new thing, and we’ll be moving around a lot in virtual worlds. What you see there, and it’s certainly still very early days, but we’re watching, we’re looking at it, we’re learning that the luxury brands are buying land there for unimaginable sums of money and opening stores, all in a virtual world. You just have to say that you probably, or definitely, can’t be closed to it. You just have to be open and check, for whom does this fit? Does that make sense or does that not make sense for the individual person or the individual business. But it’s interesting all the same.

Bernd Zipper: I read an article in Wirtschaftswoche the other day, an interview with a smart woman about Web 1.0, Web 2.0, Web 3.0. Web 2.0 was driven by social media and Web 3.0 is driven by the fact that things are networked with each other, with people and everything. I didn’t think that was a bad classification at all. It will certainly take a moment. But because it’s not just Meta that’s going there and doing its own thing, but also Microsoft, Amazon, and so on, I could imagine that it will almost become a kind of digital social consensus to think in this direction. I’m curious to see what web-to-print will look like then. I’ll probably be virtually carrying a headline from left to right.

Alexander Sperrfechter: And at the very end, we still want to have a printed product at home.

Bernd Zipper: Exactly, yes. And maybe even make money with it. Now I don’t think we need to explain in this podcast how web-to-print works. Now if I told you, you have 30 seconds to pitch your product to me. How would you do it? In a Swabian low-key way, along the lines of just look at it. Or how?

Alexander Sperrfechter: To bring the listeners along, I try to explain where we differ from a classic or another web-to-print system or where we have a different focus. It’s about offering a product that consists of an editor and an associated workflow system, we call it that now, to create a personalized product. Whether that’s printed on paper, on wood, on plastic, it doesn’t matter at all. We also don’t care about the integration. We put a lot of emphasis on it being a solution that fits in everywhere. We do everything we can to create an integrative product that is independent of a store, independent of a portal, and independent of a purpose. That’s what we’re working on, if you leave all the functionalities out of it.

Bernd Zipper: Now you have several modules. We always talk about the Printformer, but the Printformer is more than just the editor. I’ve heard about a producer module, then there’s a workflow, also logistics. So, I think of it as a construction kit.

Alexander Sperrfechter: It’s absolutely a construction kit. Here’s what actually happens: The construction kit already starts in the editor. There are editor projects, where it’s a matter of placing a logo on a T-shirt or on packaging. And there are editor products, such as a catalogue. As you can imagine, these are completely different things. But with us, everything is one product. That means we have to think modularly, both in the front end, i.e., in the editor right at the front, and in the back end. And we attach great importance to modularity in all areas. This has practical reasons for us, because we don’t want to maintain several types and versions of software. But of course, there are also good reasons for the customer, because he only has to buy what he needs. He doesn’t have to buy the all-in, full-whatever version, but just the parts he wants. And that’s where it gets interesting. That way, he doesn’t burden his budget or usability with things he doesn’t need.

Regardless of the budget, I think usability is the most important point. If I just want to put a logo or an image on a T-shirt, I don’t need tools to align fonts, I don’t need tools to vectorize. I don’t need any of that, so I don’t even want to see the button and use it. And that’s why there’s a kit.

Bernd Zipper: That means that you can prepare everything according to needs or target groups. If I want to equip a sports club, for example, I don’t need to bother them with imposition or undercutting or anything like that. They can simply type in their name, see it on the jersey, and that’s it.

Alexander Sperrfechter: Exactly.

Bernd Zipper: Now labels and packaging are the big topic right now. To what extent are you committed to commercial print? Or are you also active in packaging and labelling?

Alexander Sperrfechter: That is precisely what I just mentioned. Our editor can do packaging, can do commercial print, can do furniture. We are not product-bound. The approach is comprehensive as far as the product is concerned. There is a design for each product branch, where there are specialties. If you now address the area of packaging, then of course it’s about being able to provide 3D models. Even an experienced layman finds it difficult to know where to place the logo on complex packaging and in which direction – and in the end it is upside down. To do that, I have to give the customer, our customers, or our customers’ customers a way to see the product in space, in 3D, and moving. You have to see where it’s folded, where the product might close, what it looks like afterwards. And of course, that’s a variant we offer for packaging. It makes little sense to show a business card in 3D – that’s possible and can be fun, but it’s not necessary.

Bernd Zipper: That’s true. I was a fan of being able to rotate as much as possible in order to be able to depict haptics virtually.

Alexander Sperrfechter: When it comes to very high-quality products, that also makes super sense. If we have letterpress products that have a wonderful feel and I want to sell that to a customer who doesn’t even know how that can be because he’s never seen it before or never had it in his hand, then that’s a super, super conversion booster. Then I can simply show my customer what others don’t show. But if I now have a very classic 250g, 50×80 business card, then it’s too much.

Bernd Zipper: Especially among the big providers, many are currently saying: “We don’t do web-to-print, we do file upload. We explain to our user how to create the file.” Then the file is uploaded, preflighted automatically, maybe even put directly on a sheet, and thus practically imposed afterwards. Now you also have workflow tools with it, do you use the file upload with preflight as well?

Alexander Sperrfechter: We wouldn’t distinguish between the two at all. For us, web-to-print is not limited to the editor. Because the upload into an environment with preflight, without preflight, with a representation of a product, is ultimately nothing other than a different editor. So, for us, with each product, there is an upload, and upload with editor. Thus, two variants. And ultimately, after the upload, I show the product to every customer who uses our systems, whether it’s actually in 3D in the packaging area or in space or whether it’s simply a 2D representation of some flyer or poster. But when I do an upload and a print data check, which we believe is absolutely essential, then at the very end I have to tell the person who orders something online that this is how it looks, and this is exactly how you’ll get it later. And whether it was designed in the editor itself or a print template was previously created by the agency, by the customer himself, and he just uploads it, the workflow is the same.

Bernd Zipper: But do you do your own preflighting or do you also use third-party tools?

Alexander Sperrfechter: No, we actually primarily use a product from Calibrate for preflight. We also have PitStop, Callas, everything connected. But our favourite is Calibrate, because there is simply logic involved and they do it very well. We have connected them or even fully integrated them. That means that the user who uses this tool gets talking errors, gets explained what is wrong and that in real time. That is very important to us, for example. If the customer asks us how he should approach things, we will always say: You have to show the error at the moment it occurs, and not say: Okay, I’ll send you an e-mail at some point saying your print data wasn’t so good after all. Because that always presupposes that the person uploading the print data is also still available at the time the e-mail is received. And if these are external people, agencies or whatever, then it drags on. So why not do it now, the technical possibilities are there if you work with the right tools. That is, the moment my data is uploaded, I want to know, does it work or does it not work. And if it doesn’t work, why?

Bernd Zipper: Yes, that’s the best logic you can show there. That’s a big issue. You mentioned another keyword earlier: Interfaces. When I look at that, now also with Shopify, with Magento and with all these topics, I always ask myself, do you have to have your own programmer for APIs nowadays, if you are a web-to-print provider – I’m talking about the printer that offers that to its customers – do you actually have to have your own programmer for APIs? Or do you realize that directly via Printformer, respectively then Shopify?

Alexander Sperrfechter: Well, we have an open API, both in the front end and in the back end. We’ll have to go into that in more detail in a moment, it’s too complex now. But for us it’s like this: We offer two reference systems, one is Magento and the other is Shopify. These are different target groups, different complexities, different investments. Very importantly, we have a ready-made integration, which we offer. But any other store system, any other portal can also be connected via our API; in case of doubt, the provider must do this himself. Or he has a partner who does that. But for both Shopify and Magento, we offer a ready-made integration. And anyone who uses this has a solution “out of the box”.

Bernd Zipper: Let’s say I started early with web-to-print, so now I’m an online printer, a smaller one. I’ve been building a store years ago, with ShopWare or Magento or something like that, and I’ve been investing in it for years. And now I have to make a new store. Do I tear the place down then? Or can I go there, put a Shopify in front of it, and change over gradually?

Alexander Sperrfechter: I think that really depends on the individual case. Basically, I say I would always try to build up the new in parallel and replace the old bit by bit. Sometimes there are also situations where you say, I’ll use the new to fuel the old, that is, to deliver data into the old system in some form. You mentioned the producer module earlier. That lends itself to that, for example, because I’m ordering a product in a new Shopify store that’s going to be printed. At the very end, a print template comes out of there. The end result will be something I want to print, in the best case a perfect PDF.

Now I have an old system that has a lot of logic in it, that has my billing attached to it – and that system can probably handle a print template. Then you could say, you take the new system to stay modern, to stay current, to get a good SEO ranking, or whatever the reasons might be. And at the very end, our producer module pushes the finished print PDF right into place in the old system to sort of make a transition, to continue using the legacy system and not tear everything down right away. We’re now on Generation 4, so I don’t know if you agree with me there.

Bernd Zipper: Absolutely.

Alexander Sperrfechter: We’re talking about Generation 4 of a web-to-print system, which means I would say that the vast majority of our customers, both existing and potential new customers, have experience with web-to-print. There are still cases where somebody is starting from scratch, but that’s the exception. And it’s almost impossible to always tear everything down. We’re talking about Generation 4, which means that if he had changed providers four times by now, the store probably wouldn’t exist anymore. That means you always have to look at what makes sense, in what form can we use the integrative option that we offer to let an old system still live, to supply it with data, because the downstream workflow absolutely works and is okay. And at what point do you simply switch to the new one step by step?

Bernd Zipper: That’s also what I always tell our consulting customers: Let us first assess whether you really need to tear down the old store at all, or whether we can’t continue to use it as an engine to fuel your business. The customers who like their store so much now should be happy to continue using it and still be able to use modern technology, Shopify or whatever, to take advantage of all the modern SEO marketing options, for example.

Alexander Sperrfechter: I think it’s ultra-important to be able to react and, if necessary, to be able to pack a product, a single product, into a store in order to work one hundred percent target group oriented. That’s almost impossible with an old system, even with a big Magento; it does work, but it’s just not economical. And that’s why you have to see what the options are.

Bernd Zipper: Another big topic is, of course, mass customization, personalization. If I start with that, can I get help from you?

Alexander Sperrfechter: Sure, our business thrives on personalization. That’s what we want to do. We never set out to simply offer e-commerce stores that don’t care what’s running on them. For us, e-commerce always goes hand in hand with personalized, individualized things. That’s where we need support from you or from your team or from other people who work in this environment. As a software provider, we naturally have the expertise to intervene in one way or another in an advisory capacity. But people will always say: Well, of course you say that, because you want to sell your software. That is certainly not wrong, we want to sell our software. But we always want to sell our software in an environment where our customer benefits from it. We have been working in a cloud for years, decades by now. It used to be called something else, and it was also harder to get people to understand that that’s good. But that means our payment models, everything we deliver depends on something working for the customer.

We will not be successful if it does not work for the customer, on the contrary. And that’s why we’re very interested in making it clear to our customers whether we can then do it ourselves or whether we need or want support from external consultants. To say, what are the advantages of entering this field? What are the advantages of edition 1? Ten years ago, you didn’t even need to talk about edition 1, they said it was never worth it. But it can be worthwhile, as we all know today. And we also know today that a customer may be willing to spend exorbitantly more money on edition 1, and thus have no pain at all because he would like to have it. To this day, edition 1 is a good example of that, that it’s still ultra-difficult to get one or the other to accept that, because they say: no way, that doesn’t fit into my process. And that’s certainly the case, at least in a conventional environment, it’s ultra-difficult to adapt a process to edition 1. But all those who do it, they also benefit.

Bernd Zipper: If they do it right, yes. After all, it’s in mass customization that so many mistakes are made. And there are different approaches, such as the Programmatic Printing approach from our colleagues, where the aim is to implement this directly in production and on a large scale, so that mass is produced again, but in each case in a run of 1. And there are other approaches. We at zipcon are also considering how we can provide support in the future. But further on: Mass Customization and DSGVO. Are you involved in any way?

Alexander Sperrfechter: Yes, this is a topic that I think has occupied and annoyed all software providers in recent years. The question is always, where is personal data processed and where is it really stored? For example, we often have customers for whom this is not relevant at all, because the actual personal data never resides with us. Our software provides this right from the start, which means that it works as an intermediary. With us, you don’t store much or anything personal, so it’s not a problem. And with everyone else, you simply have to comply with the regulations that this GDPR prescribes.

We haven’t had to make many adjustments. One or the other because, for example, we didn’t think about the fact that there is a defined deletion time and whatever. We come from IT, we hate to delete data. Not because we want to collect it, but because we always have customers who say: I deleted product X seven months ago and I would like to have it back now. There’s usually something attached to it.

That means you have to find a happy medium and create the mechanisms to ensure that it is compliant. We have never had a problem, not even during audits that have taken place at our customers’ sites, where our software was also checked. There has never been a problem that would indicate that web-to-print is not suitable for working in a compliant manner.

Bernd Zipper: You don’t just work for printers, but also for big brands. What interests me: When you’ve been in business for 20 years now, you do a lot of projects. Do you have an example of a project that you really messed up?

Alexander Sperrfechter: I’ll have to think about that. But yes, there were some. I can name a project, but I can’t name the brand. As I mentioned earlier, 20 years ago we were collecting data. From a purely technological point of view, there was no alternative to the form; later, Flash became programmable and customizable. We actually resisted it for a long time, because we didn’t like the technology. But at some point, there was pressure from outside, where people wanted flash and WYSIWYG, and no more form. So that’s when we got into this “Flashgame” and that caused us a lot of headaches. Simply because the interaction of what we expected or what we wanted and what should have gone to the client had nothing to do with what came out. So, you designed a great book and a great project, but what was printed wasn’t what was there. And I think that’s still the biggest challenge today, or the thing we invest in the most: creating print-ready documents, because a web browser is still a web browser. It’s much better today than it was 20 years ago, but it’s a web browser. And it’s not made for printing. So we have to compensate for that, and that went grandly wrong in this case.

A second anecdote I can tell is that it was really about mass. A very large supplier of individual items ran a special promotion for books for Valentine’s Day, very individual with poems for the sweetheart at home. And we weren’t told that the link to the tool would appear in a newsletter, directly, without an upstream landing page and so on. And the newsletter went out to 1.8 million households in the first slot. It took 14 minutes, then nobody ordered a book there. [laughs]

Bernd Zipper: When you look at the online print world, do you see any major trends?

Alexander Sperrfechter: We don’t actually work print-driven, we never have. We have always been very diverse in terms of our customers. We work with many manufacturers in all kinds of environments and industries. That’s why we have a bifurcated view. We don’t just think in terms of print, and we don’t just think in terms of online print, but we always think in terms of a broader field, where is what going and where is what being produced and how.

If you ask about major trends in the online print business, I think it’s still the case that we’re not yet at an individual print run across the board, whether that’s 1, 5 or 25. We still have a lot of areas where I have to order 100 or 200 or 500. In many areas, the trend will certainly be to personalize even more products, even more materials, even more elements, and to individualize them in as few runs as possible. This will continue to accompany us. One or two online printers are already demonstrating this today in an incredible variety, but I don’t think that’s the end of it, there will be even more. And it will probably become even more professional, because today individualization is no longer a gimmick, it’s normal. Here’s an anecdote from the office: It was about a colleague’s little boy going to kindergarten. And it was perfectly clear that he would have a labelled cup. And not one with a little name tag stuck under the cup with glue, as we used to do. It has to be on there. And that’s exactly what’s now normal across a whole range of products. And I think it’s also becoming more normal in more professional environments, whether it’s furniture or textiles. Personally, I have a hobby that involves furniture, carpentry. When I see the potential there is, and what is already possible in terms of an individual design on a piece of wood, then I believe that this will be one of the trends that will suddenly involve completely different industries. Because the carpenter’s workshop itself cannot print, so it will be one of the large or smaller, if they specialize, online or offline printers who will stand out.

Bernd Zipper: We have now addressed so many topics. Time for a concluding sentence. What’s yours?

Alexander Sperrfechter: We are in the print business, so I would simply say: Print more, because it’s fun. We are fully digital, we work paperless in the office, and yet we are happy about every printed product that, for whatever occasion, lands on our table. So, think about what can I do individually for our customers or for your customers in this case. And use software, because that’s what it’s all about in the future.

Bernd Zipper: Yeah cool. Alexander, thank you.

Alexander Sperrfechter: Yes, thank you very much.

Bernd Zipper: Alexander Sperrfechter from rissc was here with us in Essen at Buchenhain. We’ll see you at the Online Print Symposium if not before. That’s when you can see what new ideas rissc will be coming up with next year. And I think the topic of headlessness will continue to haunt us for a while.

Alexander Sperrfechter: Definitely.

Interview: Web-to-print has to function on mobile as well
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Interview: Web-to-print has to function on mobile as well
The world functions digitally in many areas. And yet - or precisely because of this - print has a special status in society. Print not only transports information but can also turn any item into a customized product. One person who knows how to do this is Alexander Sperrfechter, founder and CEO of the software company rissc. In the new episode of Zippers Insights, he talks about e-commerce, headless web-to-print, the importance of the smartphone as a touchpoint, the metaverse and mass customization. It's worth listening in!
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